10 of the Most Infamous Spies in History

I spy with my little eye...

When you hear the word spy, James Bond (aka 007) is probably the first person that comes to mind. But he's the work of fiction and fantasy. Did you ever wonder about the most famous spies that really existed? Here are the 10 most infamous spies in history you definitely wouldn't want to double-cross.

01
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Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower

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This former NSA contractor was accused of espionage and theft of government property. He was not, however, charged with treason. Snowden escaped the United States and was indicted in absentia in May 2013. This whistleblower faces extradition back to the United States for his crimes. His exclusive interview can be seen here.

02
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Benedict Arnold: The Ultimate Traitor

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Benedict Arnold was an early American leader in the Revolutionary War, but his reputation was quickly tarnished when he switched sides and fought for the British. As a result, he has gone down in history as one of the most infamous traitors in American history.

03
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Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg: The Soviet Spies

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In the era of McCarthyism, possible spies and Communist sympathizers were pursued left and right. The duo got caught when Ethel's brother gave evidence against the family during an FBI interrogation in return for a lighter sentence.

The Rosenbergs were arrested and put on trial for conspiracy. They continued to maintain their innocence. Although the evidence against them was suspect, the Rosenbergs were imprisoned and executed by electric chair.

04
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Mata Hari: The Exotic Dancer

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"Mata Hari was an exotic dancer and courtesan who was arrested by the French and executed for espionage during World War I. After her death, her stage name, "Mata Hari," became synonymous with spying and espionage." — Jennifer Rosenberg, 20th Century History Expert

05
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Klaus Fuchs: The Bomb Maker

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Leading up to WWII, the Manhattan Project was underway. Klaus Fuchs joined the team of scientists working on this project to expedite research to produce a viable atomic bomb. The only problem? No one knew he was a Russian spy. Fuchs delivered sketches of the nuclear weapon, Fat Man, to his Soviet courier, Harry Gold. When the FBI and British intelligence started questioning Fuchs in 1949, he confessed and was convicted of espionage in a two-day trial.

06
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Allan Pinkerton: The Accidental Spy

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Pinkerton was a savvy industrialist before he became a spy. He sort of stumbled upon the vocation while using his detective skills to oust counterfeiters in the area. He realized he could better use these talents, and in 1850 Pinkerton founded a detective agency. This started him on the path to leading the organization responsible for spying on the confederacy during the Civil War.

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Elizabeth Van Lew: The "Crazy Bet"

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"After the war started, Elizabeth Van Lew openly supported the Union. She took items of clothing and food and medicine to prisoners at the Confederate Libby Prison and passed information to U.S. General Grant, spending much of her fortune to support her espionage. She may also have helped prisoners escape from Libby Prison. To cover her activities, she took on a persona of "Crazy Bet," dressing oddly; she was never arrested for her spying." – Jone Johnson Lewis, Women's History Expert

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Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five: The Communist Crew

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This group of young Cambridge communists were recruited by the Soviets for their espionage services. According to the International Spy Museum, they "quickly obtained key positions in the British government and intelligence apparatus, including SIS (foreign intelligence), MI5 (domestic security), and the Foreign Office."

A key destination for these five spies was St. Ermin's Hotel, an underground of spies and spy catchers. Although the five were ultimately uncovered, the authorities were reluctant to prosecute their own.

09
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Belle Boyd: The Actress

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This woman certainly knew how to capitalize on her spy status. As a Confederate spy, Boyd passed information on Union army activities in the Shenandoah area to General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. She was captured, imprisoned, and then released.

In later years she appeared on stage in her Confederate uniform to talk about her time as a spy, and she wrote an embellished version of her exploits in her book, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison.

10
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Virginia Hall: The Woman With a Limp

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Virginia Hall supported the Resistance to Nazi takeover for years in Spain and France. She provided maps to Allied forces for drop zones, found safe houses, reported on enemy movements, and even assisted in training at battalions of French Resistance forces. She did all this with a wooden prosthesis, after she lost part of her leg in a 1932 hunting accident.

"The Germans recognized her activities and made her one of their most wanted spies calling her the 'woman with a limp' and 'Artemis.'" – Pat Fox

Hall taught herself to walk without a limp and successfully employed many disguises to foil Nazi attempts to capture her.

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